|Our April Public Meeting
Many thanks to everybody who attended: we were treated to an excellent presentation by Dave Barnes, CBC Strategic Director. Anybody who heard what he had to say about Local Government reorganisation can be in no doubt as to the size and complexity of the task in hand. Thanks also to our local Councillors, Colin Bungey, Fred Neale, Margaret Phipps and Sue Spittle for answering resident’s questions.
In summary, over the last six months it has become clear that Central Government is prepared to squeeze the finances of Local Authorities such as Dorset, offering money as an inducement to change whilst retaining the power under the new CLG Act 2016 to impose structures if they don’t like what local people are proposing. They apparently want to be able to deal with one person – an elected Mayor - who can act with authority for a large organization.
A basic maxim of public finance is ‘no taxation without representation’. In other words there should always be a direct link between the representatives we elect, the Council Tax we pay, and how that tax is spent.
The Government’s objective is self-sufficiency for local services funded from the Council Tax, both domestic and business, which means that local taxation will bear the whole burden of massively expensive public services such as child care and care for the elderly, the changing standards of which are determined by central government.
Such a huge disconnect between tax payer and effective tax spender with local Councillors playing piggy-in-the-middle will not in our view be a healthy development, particularly when it is based on Council Tax, which is a highly regressive form of taxation.
Later in this newsletter we address the issue of the “high level financial review” that is due to be published end-May
A further public meeting on this whole topic of Local Authority reorganisation has been organised by our sister organisation Christchurch Citizens. It will be held in Druitt Hall, Central Christchurch, on Monday 23rd May at 7.30pm. Please come along if you can.
Police and Crime Commissioner Hustings
This meeting too was successful with presentations by all four candidates followed by a very interesting question and answer session.
On Election Day, Martyn Underhill was re-elected as Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset. He received 38% of the first preference votes and was elected after the second preference votes were added in (because no candidate received more than 50% of first preference votes).
Martyn received a total of 66,660 first and second preferences compared with his nearest challenger, Conservative Andrew Graham’s 44,548. Turnout was nearly 23%, up from 16% in 2012.
||First round vote
||+ Second preferences
Dorset Police and Dorset Alert
Dorset Alert is a computer based system purchased using public money that the management of Dorset Police have never managed to fully implement. Following some robust representation by ACRA, some improvements have been made but much remains outstanding. We thought it a good time to obtain a progress report.
The database has been cleaned and updated.
Dorset Alert messages are being integrated into a brand new Dorset Police website, which will launch in May 2016. This will enable Dorset Alert to function with our other communications channels, which has been one of the main challenges. This will also provide a much better means to view alerts locally, rather than using the full Alert website, which can be unwieldy.
We are now putting out appeals promptly so that Alert users get important information before (or at the same time as) local media.
We have had to do some bespoke development work with the supplier to bring a level of standardisation to the message system.
The promised User Group hasn’t yet been formed (WCRA note: first promised February 2015).
We continue to watch and wait
The Latest Frauds
Fraudsters are still conning elderly and vulnerable people over the phone in Dorset, which has cost local people nearly £1,100,000 since 2014.
Currently, fraudsters are texting members of the public offering a tax rebate. The text message contains a link to a website and requests those being conned to provide personal information, such as bank account information, to claim the non-existent rebate.
In addition, fraudsters are currently pretending to be from a bank, stating that the account holder is due new credit or debit cards but they need the PIN for the current cards so that they can be cancelled. The caller states the new cards will be with the customer the following day. If a victim queries the caller, the victim is told that the local branch manager will ring to confirm the authenticity. A subsequent call is made to the account holder and they confirm the previous caller’s details.
The victim then receives a further call from the offenders, asking if they have received their new cards. They obviously haven’t, so the offender states that they will send a courier to deliver the new cards and collect the old ones. Later that day, a person will turn up at the address, stating they are a courier. They give the victim the ‘new’ cards and collect the old ones. Shortly after this transaction, fraudulent activity is recorded on the resident’s accounts both on-line and at local ATMs.
Thanks to action by the police and newsletters such as this one, this year Dorset Police has received only 27 reports of phone fraud between 1st January and 25th April 2016, compared to 407 reports for the same period last year.
Police have received reports of this type of phone fraud from residents living in Poole, Bournemouth, Christchurch, Ferndown, Portland and Bridport. The victims, who are on average 79 years old, have lost a combined total of £43,812 this year, compared to £420,500 for the same period last year: a reduction of over 90 per cent. 9 phone fraud victims have lost money to criminals, compared to 35 in 2015.
Remember nobody legitimate, no matter which organisation they claim to be from, will ask you for bank details over the phone or on your doorstep. This includes the police, banks and retailers.
Gravel Extraction at Roeshot Hill
Many thanks to everyone who signed the petition to try to stop the invasion of our roads by huge gravel bearing HGVs. The plans for the excavation have now been published and details can be viewed on the Hampshire County Planning website at:
You have until 20th June 2016 to register your comments with Hampshire Council and we ask you to please take a moment to do that.
New event for home workers and freelancers in Christchurch
Christchurch and East Dorset Councils, in conjunction with Skills and Learning and Somerford Alliance Resource Centre (ARC), are launching a new event in Christchurch for freelancers, home workers and micro business owners.
The new weekly event aims to provide an informal environment for people to collaborate and interact with others who would usually be working from home. Known as “Business Jelly” events, they will be held every Thursday (starting 9th June 2016) at the Somerford ARC, 20 Southey Road, Somerford, Christchurch BH23 3EH. Drop in between the hours of 1pm and 3pm. Every Business Jelly will be free to attend with Wi-Fi provided by the Somerford ARC.
This Business Jelly is being set up following the successful introduction of a similar event which started in Wimborne in January this year. The concept of the Business Jelly was conceived in New York in 2006 by two IT freelancers who wanted to overcome the drawbacks of working from home (apparently they were eating jelly beans at the time which gave them the idea for the name – thank goodness it was only jelly beans, the mind boggles at other possibilities).
By working in a shared environment, they were able to benefit from the creativity and energy that is generated by working with others whilst still working independently from their employer. Many have found that Business Jelly events have been a good way to meet likeminded people as well as providing a refreshing change from their home offices.
For more information please contact Duncan Newman via telephone on 01202-795-528, via email on email@example.com or visit www.uk-jelly.org.uk
Local Buses Routes 24 and 111
Don’t forget the bus survey at: https://www.dorsetforyou.com/24-and-111-bus-review
Proposed School at Marsh Lane
Plans for the new primary school have yet to be signed off by the Secretary of State. Approval was granted for the Marsh Lane school in February by both CBC and DCC. But because the development will be on green belt land, the decision had to be referred to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Greg Clark and he has yet to decide whether the plans need to be “called in”.
As reported in The Echo a letter to DCC written on behalf of Greg Clark said:
"It is regretted that the Department is yet to complete consideration of the proposal and, in exercise of his powers the Secretary of State hereby directs your Council not to grant permission on the application without specific authorisation.
This Direction is issued to enable the Department to have a further period in which to consider the proposal. The matter will be dealt with as quickly as possible and a further letter will be sent to you when that consideration has been completed."
Meanwhile our children and grandchildren continue to be short changed.
Potential redevelopment of our Council Offices
The Echo reported that plans to demolish Christchurch council’s offices and create a riverside marina with housing, shops and a new park have been drawn up. Developers have created draft proposals for the site, which were unveiled to councillors at a recent private briefing at the Captain’s Club Hotel.
The plans apparently incorporate the site of the Civic Offices, the former Mostyns factory, the gas works site on Bridge Street and Two Riversmeet Leisure Centre and golf course. As well as opening up access to the River Avon and creating a marina, the scheme will see housing built on the land, along with shops and restaurants.
It is reported that as part of the scheme a new council building could be built. The need for this must be rigorously questioned if these plans do move forward. One of the huge benefits that could result from the reorganisation of Local Government is service delivery based around technology that does not require expensive office blocks in order to function efficiently. The last thing we should be doing is building white elephants.
Local Government Reorganisation
We are still waiting for the “high level financial analysis” that failed to appear on the original target date of March 26th and is currently promised for “end May”.
In the interim, we’ve been doing some high level analysis of our own looking at two topics.
As you probably know Poole and Bournemouth froze the level of their Band D Council Tax for several years before finally increasing it for 2016-17. As a result Band D Council Tax is currently lower in both Poole and Bournemouth than it is in Christchurch. We have heard it suggested that if these two Councils were merged with Christchurch to form a single new authority then Dorset taxpayers, including us in Christchurch, would see their level of Council Tax reduce.
To crudely test the viability of this suggestion we looked at the level of debt being carried by the three Councils. Poole has a published debt of £86.5 million; Bournemouth a debt of £98.5 million; and DCC a debt of £219.3 million. However, DCC is a significantly larger Authority than either Poole or Bournemouth. Thus, DCC has 162,146 Band D properties against 60,839 in Bournemouth and 55,415 in Poole.
For a true comparison one has to look at the size of the debt that is carried by each Band D property. This shows that in DCC each Band D property carries a debt of £1,352. The figure for Bournemouth is £1,619 and for Poole £1,560 per Band D property. This is broadly what we would expect and reflects the effect of freezing the Council Tax in Poole and Bournemouth. As the future emphasis is likely to be on reducing these debt figures, what that tells us is that any suggestion that our Council Tax will fall following a merger should be treated with a degree of scepticism.
Another major consideration that impacts the viability of any merger is the financial situation found in the respective pension funds. So we looked at the level of Pension Liability carried by each Authority. If we repeat the process described above we discover that DCC has a published Pension Liability of £3,941 for each Band D property; Poole stands at £4,384; and Bournemouth brings up the rear at £5,743 of pension liability for each Band D property. That’s 46% higher than DCC.
We will be looking to see how the “high level financial analysis” addresses this situation and what conclusions it draws as to the best course of action for DCC in general and Christchurch in particular when it comes to the pension funds in each of the authorities.
The April Newsletter gave rise to a lot of e-mails from you, our readers, thanking us for keeping you in the picture and appreciative of the style and content. We value these comments and thank you for them.